Bicycle Around the World


Index: Letters By Date | A Unique Opportunity | The Last (?) Bike Ride
June 24, 2002

You get what you need when you need it, or how one adventure replaced another.

I guess it was the day after my last Update. I rode an easy 40km to ZhangYe, and had lunch, then headed continued down the road. The next town was 60km away, but I was thinking that there would be some pockets of associated villages the same as there were before I got to LinZe - or at least I would find a suitable place to camp. Neither happened.
The Brits on the tricycle tandem recumbent that I met my first full day in China had told me that I could camp behind parts of the Great Wall that were close to the road along here. Sure enough there were the parts of the wall, and just beyond that was the railroad. There would surely be lots of noise from the trains going by.
And, I am finding that the Chinese are gradually rearranging the whole landscape. Sometimes it looks like they are trying to avoid having flash floods wash away the road. There is lots of evidence of huge amounts of water coming down from the nearby mountains. One of the things they are doing is putting up 4-6 foot mounds of earth parallel to the highway. Too high to get over with a bicycle. Other times they are trying to grow trees. This means large areas crosshatched with small dikes to hold irrigation water for the trees. Also hard to get across with a bicycle. Then, when you do get a path through one of
these, there is nothing but flat open desert. On that particular night I could see storm activity coming from the west, and was more interested in the solidness of a hotel room of any kind. So I kept riding, and finally covered the whole 60km to ShanDan, for a trip high of 102km for the day, not counting the extra 3 or 4 from the main highway into the town. ShanDan directly translated means, "Mountain Egg."
The road I have been following is a main highway clear across the country, from Shanghai to where I entered the country in far western XinJiang. There are lots and lots of little restaurants along the road in every town and village - regular kind, and various kinds of Chinese fast food. When I come to a row of them, I usually ride slowly, or even get off and walk, waiting to see if someone will take the initiative to get me to be a customer. It works better this way, because then I get someone who is willing to/wants to deal with a foreigner. In this case, I had hardly slowed down when three people called out to me from
outside this one restaurant. The manager, a young woman, even walked out to the roadside waving at me to come over.
From this I was able to get a good meal by giving a price and asking them to recommend something at that price. I also was able to ask about hotels in the next town, which was where I wanted to stop the next day in order to get a good start on a 9000 foot mountain that started right after that town. They said there were no hotels, and then one of the original three said something about sleeping and eating at that town "BuYao Qian," which translates directly to "not want money" - or free. He said the name again, and I wrote down the sounds, then asked him to write it in Chinese, which he did.

When I went outside after the meal, There was a bus and a bunch of people, including a policeman. When I aked about hotels in Shandan. One of the original three pointed on down the highway, but the policeman said I should go into town and stay at the ShanDan BingGuan (hotel). When I asked him to write that in Chinese, he also noticed the other writing about the next night for free. They said that he would be there. From that I deduced that this was going to be the police barracks, which I later had confirmed, even though I didn't go there after all - but I am getting ahead of the story.
I finally found the ShanDan Bing Guan, and was followed into the lobby by about half a dozen young Chinese who looked like they wanted to practice their English. Turns out they were English teachers at the local school, and had just happened to be within earshot the last time I asked someone on the street where the hotel was. They ended up translating for me and the hotel clerk. I might have ended up in the same place, but this made it a lot easier.
At first there were no rooms. Then there were rooms in another building in the back. But before we even went inside that building, it came out that they were more expensive, about 2 to 4 times what I normally pay. I said, "too expensive." and threatened to go to another hotel that had already offered me a room while I was looking for this one. Finally the clerk said that if I would wait until 8:30, about 45 minutes, they would have time to clean a more reasonably priced room in the original building. I went directly from registration to the room, about 15 minutes altogether. The teachers carried my panniers, and then stayed around for a few minutes before going on their way.
The next day's ride was not going to be long, so in the morning, I went out and had some breakfast, then came back and took a long nap. When I got back to the main road, there was the same restaurant manager waving at me to come in. I did, and had a good early lunch before getting underway. The same guy who had recommended the police barracks wanted to confirm that I was going there that afternoon. I assured him that I was.
It started out to be a nice day, and that was the day that I discovered how to get a place in the shade to rest in the middle of the day. It was just before another section of new expressway (this one didn't have restrictions about bicycles or small tractors like the other one did). I was trying to figure out how to get from where the old road ran out, up to the new road, when an ice cream vendor sitting in the middle of what was going to be a new lane, but wasn't yet, called out and pointed the way. They had a 10-cubic foot freezer like there are everywhere in all towns and villages, with and extension cord running 100 yards back to some houses in the nearby village. Next to it was a chair under a
piece of canvas supported by four poles, This is when it occurred to me that if I bought an ice cream stick or Popsicle, they might let me sit in the chair and sure enough that is what happened. These things cost about 10 cents, give or take a little depending on which one you choose.

As I moved down along the expressway, I could see that it was raining way ahead. I stopped and put on my GoreTex pants and moved the jacket to the top of the pile in the pannier. Wasn't raining on me yet, but I was going to be ready. A little later I passed an empty bus (except for the driver and his partner). I said hello to the driver, who was leaning out his window watching me, and he said something back to me in Chinese that I did not understand and I kept going. A few minutes later I came to a place where the road was wet, but it wasn't raining there anymore. And then I heard a horn honk and when I looked in my mirror there was the bus following me in the breakdown lane, trying to get me to stop. At first I thought that he might be connected to the expressway and would tell me not to ride there. Turned out not the be
the case, and they had decided that I should not be out there riding when I might get rained on.
I showed them the GoreTex and said I had a jacket in the pannier. This was not enough. They insisted that I go with them on the bus. In the end I decided that it was not worth trying to convince them otherwise, so the bicycle went in the luggage compartment underneath and the panniers went inside with me. This was another sleeper bus, much nicer than the one I had ridden in to JaiYuGuan. These guys were representatives of the factory in JiangSu province in the far east of China, and were out here showing off the bus to prospective customers.
The bus never did get rained on very much, and as we drove along I was watching the distance markers to see where the police barracks should be. But before I knew it we were past and on our way up the mountain. Being in the police barracks might have been an interesting adventure, but from the beginning I had at least some small misgivings about being in a place with a bunch of men, and not having the freedom to leave when I wanted to. Sort of like the road construction crew. Interesting for a while, but who knows what can happen on a long stay. So I was not really unhappy about having passed them by. With families, like the government worker in Kazakstan, it is different.
The bus guys were on their way to WuWei, a pretty large city, which is where I am now. Getting over the mountain and to the next town was OK, but I figured I had covered enough distance by bus so had them let me off in YinChang, a county seat, and the first town on the other side of the mountain. from there my plan was to have an easy day of about 65km, mostly downhill, to WuWei the next day - that was two days ago. But I didn't make it.
In the middle of the morning, I stopped in the village of LiuBa for another rest in the chair of an ice cream vendor in the shade. LiuBa means dam number six. Turns out there are other villages around with numbers from 1 dam to 9 dam. I never saw any dams.
Often when I stop someplace a few curious people come by for a look and to find out where I am from, but usually not more than half a dozen or so. This time there must have been a hundred, all gathering around and staring at me. There were some kids in front and I talked to them in English a little, commenting about the buzz cut one of them had, and making a fuss over a little one still in split pants.
Finally, after about 15 minutes of this, there came a voice in pretty good English. One of the English teachers at the local middle school had come to see what the fuss was about, and then to make a request of the native English speaker. First she asked me to have a rest in her home. Why not, I said to myself, and off we went. Then she said maybe I could take time for some conversation with her students. Also, why not, I said to myself. Then I asked what time, having forgotten that this was Sunday. She said 7:00. Turns out that this is a boarding school for the kids in the surrounding villages. They arrive at 7:00pm on Sunday evening and study in their classrooms until 11:00pm. They have classes through the week and go home on Friday afternoon.
I said I would be willing to talk with the students, but then where would I stay? She said I could sleep in the master bedroom with her husband, or there by myself if I wanted. I said by myself would be better. By that time it was about noon, and I had been on the road less than an hour. What to do for the  rest of the day? That turned out not to be an issue. In typical Chinese fashion, she said we should go to another town where they had a nice park that was worth seeing. It was in JinChang, an industrial town an hour and a half bus ride each way, and we could eat lunch in that town, so off we went along with one of her male colleagues she recruited to go along.
In the end we did not spend much time in the park. First, we ran into a friend of the male colleague, and we had to go to his home so they could catch up on what had happened since the last time they were together 5 years ago. The home is in a block of flats built by the government, with individual flats available for sale to those who have enough money. This one was very nice, six rooms, and very nicely decorated. They said normally it would cost 100,000 yuan (about $12,500), but because he was so good at his job - he is a writer - they sold it to him for only 40,000 yuan.
Finally we were on our way again, and then took a long time finding a suitable place to eat. When we did, the food was good. It was a place that specialized in Jiaozi, which most phrase books and dictionaries translate as "dumplings," but a better description would be to say that they are the Chinese version of ravioli. There is a generic version of Jiaozi that is served as one of the many Chinese fast foods, but special Jiaozi restraunts serve all kinds. With the English teachers helping me, we choose two kind; pork with mushrooms and pork with vegetables.
Finally we went to the park. It is very large, and as it was Sunday, lots of people were out with their families. There is a largish lake in the middle with paddle boats, and a children's amusement park, with, among other things, dodgem cars and a Pirate Ship. Because we still had what turned out to be a two-hour bus ride back to LiuBa, we didn't stay very long.
We had walked a long way to get to the park, but in stages, so it didn't seem like so far. And until now they had insisted that I was their guest and should not pay for anything. Then they started toting up how much they had paid so far, and decided between them that their original plan was not so good after all, and that since we were so far from the bus station, and because I was surely tired by now, I should pay for a taxi to the bus station, and by the way, while we are on the subject, maybe I could spring for bus fare too. This was not a problem, and I was glad to pay my share, it was just interesting how it came about.
We got back just in time for me to phone Ruth and give her the teacher's phone number so she could call me back at cheaper US to China rates rather than have a conversation at China to US rates. Then I spent from 7:30 to after 9:30 with two different groups of students. One group of 52, and another of 48. I think American teachers should be glad when they have fewer than 30. I also got a look at the one of the dormitory rooms and ended up sleeping in the room of a single teacher and his roommate. This was the teacher who went with us to JinChang. I slept in his bed, he slept in the roommate's bed, and the roommate went some other place.

Each room was the same size, about 10 feet wide, and maybe 20 feet long. Each teacher had a bed - wooden, with only a thin pad between sleeper and wood. I laid out the thicker winter quilt and slept on top of it, with a thinner summer cover over me. Each teacher had a small desk, there was a small cupboard, and I think some boxes under the beds. That was it for personal belongings. Then there was a coal stove for heat in winter, a wash basin on a wrought iron stand and a bucket of water to replace the water in the basin when you wanted clean. Toss the dirty water into the flower bed outside the door. Or into the clay court yard when there isn't a flower bed. Toilet was a couple hundred yards away, across the athletic field. Needs to be that far because it can smell pretty bad in summer. Students sleep on bunk beds, 14 to a room the same size.
During the two hours with the students, we first took group photos. The local professional photographer came. Students brought chairs out into the courtyard. Some kneeled in front, some sat, and some stood behind. After that we spent time with me asking them questions, and them asking me questions. It was an interesting session, but I was glad when it was over.
I was glad we had had a late lunch, because it was 10:00 before we were ready to go to supper. The electricity was also out, I think from the high wind that came with a storm early in the evening. Not much rain, but there were lots of dark clouds and a strong wind. Supper was to be at the Roman Restaurant across the highway from the school. We were so late that the gate keeper had already locked the gate. The teachers had a key that once had opened the lock so we spent some time on that to no avail, and finally they roused the gate keeper and convinced her that we should be let out. Maybe they had to invoke the foreigner card, but I don't know for sure. Supper was good.
Roman restaurant because apparently some 2500 Roman soldiers had settled here millenia ago, and many of the people in this county are probably their descendents.
I guess that is about it. Next day (yesterday) I was on down the road for the final 50km to WuWei, and since it was mostly downhill, it was a pretty easy day, until I got here.
Turns out that all the regular hotels refuse to take foreigners, and refer them to two fancy expensive hotels. One of them even claims that prices normally paid in yuan should really be prices in dollars. I didn't say to argue. I spent more time and energy sorting the hotels situation out than I did getting here and about the same on a wild goose chase finding this Internet cafe, but it came out OK in the end. Even though the hotel I am in is 3 to 4 times what I normally pay, and twice the highest I have paid before yesterday I am glad to be here. I
was going to go on to the next town for my rest day, but finally decided that I would stay one more night.
They have hot water 24/7, and I have my own bathroom with a really nice shower. And a shower curtain even. The toilet is right in there with the shower, I guess in case you have the urge while you are showering. If not, just wipe everything off when you are done, and it will be ready when you are. A Chinese-style buffet breakfast is also included.

Edited by Shirley Salas
June 26, 2002